Imagine for a moment that you are an excellent tennis player who regularly ranks in the Top Ten in your age group and in your state. You have an excellent first serve that you can place with pinpoint accuracy, a reliable second serve, a devastating two-hand backhand, and a well-disguised drop shot that befuddles opponents. What’s more, you cover the court with surprising speed and agility and have developed an impressive deep topspin lob. You invariably bring home some silver in local tournaments, and in state tournaments you are a good bet to reach–at minimum– the quarterfinals.
Then came the pandemic. You haven’t been able to play tennis since March, 2020, because all the courts and public clubs were shut down. Some of your wealthy competitors have their own courts or have been able to play on private courts belonging to friends. Not you…..
Now the ban has been lifted, and you and your coach have just begun to work on all aspects of your game–your first serve, second serve, drop shot, two-hand backhand, and topspin lob–because a weakness in any one aspect of your game will invariably mean defeat. At this level, opponents are quick to sniff out deficiencies and take advantage of them.
However, on the very day that you and your coach begin working in earnest, a directive comes from from the state office that coordinates tournaments and–critically–determines rankings. It says that, out of concern for “Tennis Loss” and in the absence of tournament results, rankings will be determined by a performance test that will be administered state-wide in one month. Players wishing to be ranked must send a time-stamped videotape that shows the player delivering 50 first serves. The state will then evaluate the tapes based on accuracy, placement, and speed, and the results will determine everyone’s ranking for the following year.
Only first serves! No other aspect of one’s game matters, which means that, if you care about where you are ranked, you will not work on the rest of your game, just your first serve.
You could opt out of the test, of course, but that would mean, come tournament time, you would have to hope the directors will cut you some slack. Maybe they will give you a wild card entry, although wild card entries are little more than opening round sacrificial lambs for the top-ranked players.
It’s a classic lose-lose situation: If you ignore the other aspects of your game and just work on your first serve, you may end up with a good ranking but a crummy all-around game. But if you opt out of the test and instead develop your complete game, you won’t be ranked and probably won’t get into tournaments.
If you’ve read this far, you know that I am actually writing about the Biden Administration’s recent decision to plunge ahead with the mandated standardized bubble tests, despite then-candidate Biden’s public promise to the contrary at a gathering in Pittsburgh. I was there and heard him make the promise. Why is he going back on that promise? Perhaps he’s been so busy with the pandemic, climate change, Iran, Russia, China, et cetera that this idiotic announcement slipped through unnoticed.
Let’s make him aware of what is being done in his name!
Consider public education’s current circumstances: The pandemic closed down physical school for well over half of students last Spring. ‘Virtual school’ was a mixed bag across the country, a struggle for teachers, and an abyss for children in families without access to high-speed internet or space at home for them to work without interruption.
Like my hypothetical tennis player, what American students need now is the opportunity to work on all aspects of their game, and that includes relearning how to work with other kids after months and months of isolation. It means lots of free play, games with other children. It means interesting team projects, preferably ones that involve both classmates and peers from other schools, other towns, other states (and maybe even other countries). It means opportunities for young people to talk and write about their experiences over recent months.
Doing these things would give trained professionals the time and opportunity to assess the needs of their students. And by ‘needs,’ I mean educational, physical, emotional, nutritional, et alia.
But because the powers-that-be have blathered on about “Learning Loss,” they have decided that one standardized, machine-scored bubble test will be all-powerful, even though it may be given on-line to some students and under wildly different conditions for other students.
(A reminder: the term ‘standardized test’ means that the test is given under standard conditions—everybody follows the same rules.)
Because of the Biden Administration’s decision (made, incidentally, before the new Secretary of Education was confirmed), many public schools will focus on test-prep, and on the narrow subjects the test will cover. Say goodbye (again) to art, music, physical education, extra-curricular activities, and recess. Just get back to doing what we’ve done since at least 2001 and “No Child Left Behind.” And the results are completely predictable: students in the wealthy suburbs will do well, and some politicians and so-called ‘reformers’ will spew their usual nonsense about “The Achievement Gap,” and nothing will change.
Ask yourself who benefits besides the established order. Maybe follow the money??
For a clearer look at how ridiculous and harmful the Biden Administration decision is, read this.
You, my hypothetical tennis player, do have one other option: Band together with other ranked tennis players in your state and simply refuse to cooperate. If enough of you take a stand, the authorities will eventually have to give in because they will have no way of creating rankings.
And students, their families, teachers, local school boards, and state education agencies also have that option. It’s your serve, people!